Yesterday I had a long and fascinating talk with former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who has just released Dangerous Allies, his new book calling for a substantially more independent Australian strategic posture.

You can listen to the whole conversation below, but I have also transcribed a few of the highlights.

In particular, look out for Fraser's judgment that, due to the US Marine presence in Darwin and the evolving role of the joint facilities at Pine Gap (which according to Fraser, now have a much more offensive purpose, such as targeting of US drone strikes, as well as their founding purpose of detecting missile launches), Washington now has the power to take Australia to war just as Britain did a century ago:

  • Fraser calls the US Marine presence in the Northern Territory 'a powerful, hard hitting offensive task force stationed in Darwin — and however much the Americans and other say this is just for training and whatever, we know it's not. There's a powerful air wing, there's naval ships attached to it, not stationed in Darwin but available and ready.'
  • 'The drones that killed Australians in the Yemen were probably targeted out of Pine Gap. How do we feel about that? We're not meant to be at war with Yemen.'
  • 'Conflict between China and Japan is possible. The Americans have made it plain that they would side with Japan if there is a conflict, and as things are, we would get dragged in to that conflict, when our interest would be to stay well clear of it. Now, if you've got those troops in Darwin being used in relation to such a conflict, and Pine Gap was being used  to give direction to a variety of weapons systems, the prime minister could get up and say 'Oh, look, we're not involved, we're not complicit'. But we would be complicit, the world would know we were complicit. And that means that the United States has the power to take Australia to war really as Britain a hundred years ago had the power to take Australia to war because we were part of the Empire.'
  • On his proposal for a more independent strategic posture: 'It would certainly involve a great expenditure on defence...maybe we'd have to nearly double it. I suspect we'd certainly have to go to 2.5% or 3% of GNP.'
  • 'I believe we should say we want 40 to 45 million people in Australia.'
  • On New Zealand's decision to ban US nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered warships: 'I was opposed to it at the time but I think New Zealand was right.'
  • 'If America was prepared to wear ANZUS as ANZUS was written and born in 1951, which was a consultation if there were an attack on the armed forces or the territory of either country...in the Pacific theatre, if that's what ANZUS said and that's what ANZUS meant, then I'd be very happy to keep it. But America has persuaded us over the years to interpret ANZUS as meaning so much more than that: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan have nothing whatever to do with ANZUS.'